Hailing from Sweetwater, Tennessee, Jim Bryant is plain-speaking. He puts on no airs. Of course, you don't have to when you own cars like his.
If you want attention, just stand around his '63 split-window. We took pictures near the entrance to a rock quarry. Soon, the car was surrounded by rough-looking men in soiled work shirts hovering over the car. The crackle of the 502ci big-block had been a siren call. Then you see the doors opening in reverse, like a '34 Ford street rod, and people start to run.
"The 510hp engine is fuel-injected," says Jim. "But I like that thump with the carburetor. I like that old hard lick it hits."
Jim started working on Corvettes right after he got out of high school. Little did he know where his interest would take him. He says, "When I got out of high school in 1960, that summer there was a fuel-injected '61 Corvette that caught on fire. I talked my poor mother into buying that thing. She was a schoolteacher and my dad had died when I was young."
Jim planned a teaching career, like his sister and parents, but Corvettes intervened. Jim caught the Fever. Fixing the fiberglass on that wrecked '61 honed the skills that got him in the boat business, which has allowed him to own a slew of Corvettes and lots of other cars. "Over the years I've had them all," he says. "I love all the real Corvettes. I sort of got off on this thing of doing my own stuff."
Jim has the capability to make his own fiberglass molds and thus create one-off designs. If you've seen Boyd Coddington's television show, maybe you'll remember a designer named Eric Brockmeyer. "I called Eric and told him what I had in mind," Jim says. "I said, 'I want to make a real radical '63 Corvette split-window using my own stuff. Draw me something.' "
Jim required that "something" to be "light and low to the ground." It would use Dodge headlights and Camaro taillights. It would have reverse-opening doors. Once the drawing was OK'd, Jim handed over the project to Buddy Brooks, one of his employees at Bryant Boats in Sweetwater.
Jim has a long history racing cars. "We used to do round-track dirt racing," says Jim. "In 1973, Banjo Matthews built [for] me what was then called a Grand National car, but what they now call a Winston Cup car. We ran them in 1973-1981 in NASCAR.
"Then, in 1984, I built what they called a Pro Modified drag race car out of a '57 Chevy. I took the '57 and streamlined it down to about a 71/48 scale and made a mold off it. When everybody else was running Pro Stock, I made what they call a Pro Modified car that Rob Vandergiff raced. We were three-time world champions with the car."
After racing the Pro Modified for four to five years, Jim got back into street-rodding. He built a street rod out of the '57 race-car molds. The '63 split-window project, seen here, was next. This time, Jim started with a "Hairy Glass" shell. Basically, this Pro Mod race-car body was a starting point for the wild '63 seen here. Jim likes the result so well, he's building a '61 Corvette next.
The '63 sits on a Morrison 2x4 rectangular chassis with a 9-inch Ford rearend. It has a four-link suspension with coilovers all the way around. The extreme build is no surprise with Jim's racing background.
More of a surprise is the mileage on the unique car. The day we spoke, Jim said, "We're going on the Power Tour. I also drove it last year on the Power Tour. That car's got 30,000 miles on it. I don't have to use the clutch once I get rolling. All I do is jerk those levers back. Oh, yeah, it's fun. It's really a lot of fun."
He has his mom's support to thank for his interesting career. If she hadn't sacrificed to buy that '61, chances are he would have missed his true calling.
'63 CorvetteOwners: Jim & Debbie Bryant Sweetwater, TN
Body Construction: Buddy Brooks
Body Design: Eric BrockmeyerCamaro taillights, Dodge headlights, suicide doors, hood & dash, front end, constructed by Brooks
Engine: 502ci, 502hp, Chevrolet, aluminum heads
Transmission: Lenco ST 1200, five-speed
Rearend: 9-inch Ford, four-link
Frame & Suspension: Art Morrison
Wiring: Estes Russell, Painless Components
Powdercoating: Richie Willet
R&M Base & Clearcoat: Auto Body Supply (applied by Daniel Powell)
Assembly: Estes Russell & Buddy Brooks
Upholstery: Paul Atkins (Holly Pond, AL)
Steering wheel: LeCarra (Oneida, TN)
Insurance: American National
Inspiration: Charlie Collins (1956-1998)
First completed: Summer 2001